Aussies stun Blitzboks to grab Sydney 7s glory
"GO out there and take it".
With those words ringing in their ears, the Australian mens sevens capped a magical weekend for Aussie rugby by defeating South Africa and winning the Sydney Sevens double alongside the champion women's team at Allianz Stadum.
Though rated long-odds outsiders, the Andy Friend-coached side surged through the finals, beating powerhouses New Zealand in the quarter-finals and then world no. 1 team South Africa 29-0 in the decider.
The memorable victory saw Australia snap a six-year drought on the men's world series circuit and round out a spectacular day that saw the Aussie women's team also claim the Sydney Sevens title as well a few hours earlier.
Redeeming their disappointing fourth last year at home, the Aussie women's team smashed New Zealand in their final 31-0 and made history in the process by becoming the first team ever - men's or women's - to go through an entire world series tournament without conceding a point.
IMPRESSIVE: Aussie women win without conceding a point
That achievement would have been the unquestioned headline grabber for Australia on most days, but with their thumping of reigning champs South Africa, the world no. 6 men's team emerged from a few years in the shadow of their gold-medal winning colleagues and laid claim to some deserved time in the sun too.
The tournament victory was a particularly deserved one for Friend, who entered Sydney Sevens under plenty of pressure to be re-signed and freely admitting his future rested on his young team turning their clear potential into concrete tournament wins.
They did that in Sydney, with Friend's last words in the sheds - "You've got nothing to lose - go out and take it" - ringing in their ears.
"We hoped it would come here. Did I think it would be 29 blot? No, I probably didn't think that," Friend said.
"I have enormous belief in them and their belief has been growing too but to see them play like that. I am very, very proud.
"I just thought those boys were fantastic. I am pleased for them, too. They work so hard and that's the thing you don't see. A lot of people don't given the sevens players the respect they deserve.
"I have been coaching now for 23 years and I have never seen a group work harder than these blokes.
"So to see them do that day in day out but not get the recognition, it's been tough. But now they get the recognition and I am pleased and proud of them."
The final turned on a moment deep into the first half, with scores locked at nil-all. South African speedster Rosko Speckman sizzled down the left sideline but was denied a try by a millimetre courtesy of Lachie Anderson's determined chase and tackle.
Lewis Holland scored soon after and when James Stannard scored to take a 14-0 halftime lead, the buzz grew at Allianz Stadium. The Aussie defence suffocated their rivals in the second half, and the home side rolled in three more tries as their tsunami of belief grew and grew.
"It's awesome. It is what we wanted to achieve this year and I think the boys grew with every game. We didn't win pretty at the start but we won pretty at the end," Holland said.
"We won convincingly against New Zealand and then to put 29 points on South Africa, it just shows when the team believes in what we have in place, anything can happen. Nothing is out of reach."
There is no let up for the team, with the New Zealand sevens held in Hamilton this weekend, and the Commonwealth Games and World Cup later in the year.
But the win will give the team huge confidence that they can keep making an impact, said Holland.
"We knew within our minds if we work together we can achieve greatness," Holland said. "This weekend we did that but we are not going to rest there. We are going to keep pushing forward."
Friend's strategy of building a young squad around a core of experienced troops post-Rio appears to be paying off, with rising stars like Anderson, Maurice Longbottom, Tim Anstee and Ben O'Donnell all making a huge impact over the three days in Sydney.
Holland returned to some of his best form, and in what he said was his last Sydney tournament, James Stannard's influence across the finals was masterful.
"Hopefully that win will generate something and lead to something great," Holland said.